Controversial Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney will arrive at Anfield tomorrow still under a cloud after his sulky temperament got the better of him on Wednesday and he saw red. Last season Rooney scored at Anfield and immediately went over to the Kop to taunt the fans, risking punishment for crowd incitement. He got away with it (as expected) but now everyone seems to be expecting him to be easily upset tomorrow.
Not Rafael Benitez though. Rafa will have ensured his players are aware that players often answer criticism with match-winning performances. Rooney will be carefully watched tomorrow to prevent him from having another chance of taunting the Liverpool fans.
Rooney’s motto used to be "once a blue always a blue", until he moved to United from Everton and became a Red Devil. Rooney’s pledge never to leave the club he’d supported as a boy went out of the window when Manchester United came calling with their cheque book. Benitez was asked about Rooney by reporters, and compared him to a player who was also a big name very young – Raul. Raul stayed loyal to Real however, and still plays there now after all of this time. Of course it’s easier to stay loyal at a big club like Real rather than a club that wants to be big like Everton.
Rafa says that Raul had as much pressure to contend with as Rooney, probably more, but the Spaniard had a better temperament than Wayne: "The difference between players is not always the quality but their mentality. Raul was with me when he was 16 years old. I remember Raul working really hard in training sessions and working really hard in the games. And he had a lot of control in terms of pressure, like talking to newspapers and the media. Rooney is no different to Raul in the amount of pressure he faces."
Rafa wasn’t having a dig at Rooney as such – it was more a case of offering advice that Rooney can’t keep hiding behind the "pressure" excuse. He was Raul’s mentor during his time in charge of Madrid’s youth set-up. He continued: "When you are talking about good players, they are always in the spotlight."
In fact during Rafa’s early days as a coach he paid a visit to see United in training, as he recalls: "I went to Manchester United for one week to watch them train. Sir Alex had some problems with Roy Keane about his contract so Steve McClaren was taking training. I saw Sir Alex once to say hello, but it was okay as I learnt a lot about new systems."
He also remembers that he was impressed with the United squad at the time: "I remember they had fantastic players. They played nine against nine on a half pitch and the tempo was amazing."
Meanwhile Reds attacking midfielder Luis Garcia is hoping for a better game against United than the one he was involved in a year ago when he featured in his first match against them. Liverpool lost 2-1 and Garcia says that when he looks back to that time he can see the mistakes he was making. He had only just arrived in England and hadn’t yet adjusted to the differences between the games here and in Spain. He says that he’ll have a better season this time out, and this despite finishing joint top scorer with 13 goals last season. He says: "This is going to be a good season for me because this is my second one. In my first season in England I was learning about English football in a new team with new team-mates. I will always do my best and try to do much better than last season. I know what I have to do and I have changed some things to my game. I think this season will be much better for me."
Garcia was used on the right side of midfield last season, but Rafa prefers to play him more centrally, just behind the main striker. Garcia is hoping that this will help him increase his scoring tally: "I scored 13 goals last season, which wasn’t bad, but I think I can do a lot better this season. Everyone can do more and this season I will try to be better, and I will do it." Speaking of his midweek Champions League goal against Real Betis, Garcia says: "It is always good to score goals and it was a nice goal. I know that Bolo Zenden always likes to cross early and I just tried to arrive before the defender which I managed to do. It gave us the opportunity to control the game."
He’s also pleased to hear his name sung by the supporters, saying: "I like it, it’s nice. When you are on the pitch and you hear the supporters singing it is is good for you because you know the supporters are there for you and right behind you."